The Unexpected Outcome of Morning Messages

My introduction came early in my teaching career. A visiting professional development speaker invited us to maintain “small daily doses” when it comes to modeling quality writing, emphasizing consistency over complexity. One of his recommendations was the Morning Message. Working on improving visual imagery? Add an example to your morning message. Having some confusion with certain homonyms? Toss ‘em in. Intrigued by the concept, I portioned off a space on my whiteboard to give it a try.

The results were as he described. I often modeled very specific writing skills in my morning message that we sometimes dissected as a whole class. Other times, I just let students notice them on their own. Soon, they were grasping the idea that writers employ specific tools with great purpose, and that they could identify and use those tools, too. They added techniques to their toolboxes. They openly discussed their strategies. And slowly, they came to see themselves as capable authors, too.

But there were certain other results that were quite unexpected. Wanting to be authentic with my students, I wrote those daily 3-4 sentences about my real-life experiences and feelings–and what much of my life revolved around at that time was my new baby girl, Lizzie. Her first year of life was my first year of teaching, and morning messages became a window for my students into my world with her.

Mostly, I shared moments that made us laugh. Like the time Lizzie tripped and then insisted that the floor pushed her. Or the time she instructed herself to smell a dandelion (and not to eat it) and then did so for 10 minutes. Or the time she combed her hair with a syrupy fork to be like Ariel in The Little Mermaid.

Occasionally, I shared moments of sadness. Like when she woke up from a nap helplessly covered in vomit. Or the morning she told me, “Mommy no bye-bye.”  

Whatever I shared, it was real. And my students came to see me as a real person, experiencing the ups and downs of real life.

Morning Message
Morning Message from November 26, 2012

But that wasn’t the end of the surprises that morning messages brought to our class. Eventually, I realized that it would be fun to capture those little memories for my daughter to enjoy someday. Quietly, at the end of the day as the students cleaned up and did classroom jobs, I’d snap a photo of the morning message and email it to an account I’d created for her.

My students started to notice.

And then they started asking to take the photo for me.

And then they started fiercely safeguarding the message from getting prematurely erased before it could be photographed.

I started to hear them swapping “Lizzie stories.” Former students came in and reminisced about them. Even parents expressed how much their students looked forward to those stories.

In hindsight, I’d say that the morning messages became an instrumental way we built rapport, authenticity, and empathy in our classroom–because being real with our students is one of the most precious gifts we can give them. For you, that may be better achieved in other ways, but if you’d like to give morning messages a try, below are some tips to keep in mind.

Tips for Morning Messages

Keep them brief. For younger grades, maybe even just a sentence. For older ones, just a few. Don’t bog yourself or your students down.

Keep them optional… At first, we tried reading the messages aloud together, but it just felt so awkward for all of us that we decided to skip it. Maybe it would be suitable to read it together with younger students, but for my fifth graders, I didn’t want to burden them with another “to-do.” The only time we read it together was when we were evaluating specific writing techniques as part of our unit.

…but make them engaging. Make it something your students will want to read, even if you don’t require it.

Tie in current writing concepts... Though it was always a small dose of modeled writing, sharing my thought-process with my students on how exactly I decided to craft my sentences was always a powerful teaching opportunity.

…but keep them authentic. Don’t sacrifice authenticity for an overly-contrived teaching moment. Share your true experiences and thoughts. If it doesn’t feel natural and helpful to weave the morning message into your writing instruction, don’t force it for that particular message.

Cursive? I always wrote my morning messages in cursive simply for consistent, but small exposure. As I told them, I didn’t want anything to limit their able to read any text, because cursive does still show up now and then.

What about you? Do you do morning messages? Please share your experiences below!

Featured image: Jack Amick via flickr

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Thanks to 21st century resources, long-gone are the days when teachers had to wait around for admin-organized professional development and growing opportunities.  And becoming a real leader in the education world is simpler than you might think. Here are 3 ways you can make a big difference without carving out too much of your limited time!

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5 Ways to Make Veteran’s Day Meaningful

Veteran’s Day is observed on November 11 each year, the anniversary of the day World War I ended.  Help your students to truly appreciate our veterans’ sacrifices by selecting one or more of the ideas listed here.


#1: Gallery Wall of Veteran Photos

Author's Great-Uncle Milton Brown
Author’s Great-Uncle Milton Brown

On Veteran’s Day, ask your students to bring a photo of a veteran they know.  It could be a parent, aunt, cousin, great-grandfather, or even a neighbor.  Have students bring the following:

  • An 8×10 copy of their veteran’s photo
  • An index card with information that includes:
    • Veteran’s name
    • Student’s name & relationship to veteran
    • Term of service
    • Branch of service and rank
    • Country for which the veteran served
    • Any notable information about the service

Keep the photos posted in your halls for a few weeks–not only does this beautifully honor those who have served, but it also is perfect to renew the feelings of gratitude that we seek to magnify throughout the Thanksgiving season.

#2: Poppies & Poetry

Poppies are a classic, but not all your students may be aware of their significance. Choose a way to share “In Flanders Fields” with your students, whether you simply read the text and background, watch a video, or show a picture book.  (Alternatively, share Cheryl Dyson’s poem for a piece suited for very young audiences).  Then, ask students to find meaningful ways they can express their understanding and appreciation for this poem:

#3: Letters to Soldiers

Have students write letters expressing gratitude to a soldier.  Mail these to soldiers at your closest military base or visit websites like Operation Gratitude.  Students could also share their pieces created in the above Poppies & Poetry activity.

#4: Introduce the Veteran’s History Project

The Battle of Đắk Tô was a series of major engagements of the Vietnam War that took place between November 3 to 22, 1967, in Kon Tum Province, in the Central Highlands of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). At 09:43 on 19 November, the three companies (330 men) of 2/503 moved into jumpoff positions from which to assault Hill 875. Charlie and Delta companies moved up the slope followed by two platoons of Alpha Company in the classic "two up one back" formation utilized since World War I. The Weapons Platoon of Alpha remained behind at the bottom of the hill to cut out a landing zone. Instead of a frontal assault with massed troops, the unit would have been better served by advancing small teams to develop possible North Vietnamese positions and then calling in air and artillery support.  At 10:30, as the Americans moved to within 300 meters of the crest, PAVN machine gunners opened fire on the advancing paratroopers. Then B-40 rockets and 57mm recoilless rifle fire were unleashed upon them. The paratroopers attempted to continue the advance, but the North Vietnamese, well concealed in interconnected bunkers and trenches, opened fire with small arms and grenades. The American advance was halted and the men went to ground, finding whatever cover they could. At 14:30 PAVN troops hidden at the bottom of the hill launched a massed assault on Alpha Company. Unknown to the Americans, they had walked into a carefully prepared ambush by the 2nd Battalion of the 174th PAVN Regiment. The men of Alpha Company retreated up the slope, lest they be cut off from their comrades and annihilated. They were closely followed by the North Vietnamese. All that prevented the company-strength North Vietnamese onslaught from overrunning the entire battalion was the heroic efforts of American paratroopers who stood their ground and died to buy time for their comrades. Soon, U.S. air strikes and artillery fire were being called in, but they had little effect on the battle because of th
Robert Couse-Baker

This project was started by Congress in 2000, and is sponsored by AARP.  The goal is to “collect, preserve, and make accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.”  As a class, you could:

  • Discuss the interview questions listed in the Field Kit, and practice interview skills in class.
  • Complete the VHP preparations as a class:
    • 15-minute Field Kit Companion Video
    • Search the collections database
    • Print forms
    • Register for the VHP RSS feed (and add to your class blog if you have one!)
  • Locate a veteran to interview (either a student’s family member or someone found in a local veterans service organization), then hold the interview in class if he or she can make it, or by phone.
  • While volunteer student interviewers must be 10th graders or older, younger students can participate in interviewing family members.  Additionally, donations are welcome, so your class could alternatively hold a fundraiser for the project!

#5: Favorite Videos

 

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